Parliament: Ministerial Travel: Brown's pounds 20,000 bill for private flights under fire

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THE ROW over ministerial travel deepened yesterday when the Tories stepped up pressure on Gordon Brown to answer questions about his own arrangements.

John Maples, shadow defence secretary, said he had refused to explain why he used helicopters and private jets on his September 1997 trip to Mauritius and Bangkok at a cost of pounds 20,000. "How much more is there that we do not know? Taxpayers have a right to be told what the Chancellor is spending their money on."

Margaret Beckett, the Commons Leader, accused Tory MPs of waging a "phoney campaign" and asking "nit-picking, mischief-making and costly questions".

The Prime Minister's official spokesman has previously indicated the Government would refuse to answer questions on travel arrangements.

Other allegations of minister's "high life" have focused on Jack Cunningham, the Cabinet "enforcer", who allegedly took Concorde, although cheaper flights would have been available. There have also been allegations of ministers staying in luxury hotels and dining out.

During question time Sir George Young, shadow Commons leader, said Mr Brown's "continued refusal" to answer parliamentary questions on the matter were, far from "diminishing the embarrassment to the Government, actually increasing it". Replying, Mrs Beckett listed answers the Chancellor and other Treasury ministers had given to questions on ministerial travel. "The suggestion that the Chancellor has been reluctant to give answers does not stand."